Like a Girl

A new study suggests it's time for web gals to fly their geek flags

| January 19, 2006

Some say there are more differences within the sexes than between them, but the author of a new study on how men and women use the internet draws a bold line separating Xs from Ys. According to Deborah Fallows, a researcher for the Pew Internet and American Life Project, men are 'more aggressive' online, seeking a variety of information and engaging in 'more activities' than women, who concentrate on 'nurturing their relationships' with nice, cozy e-mails.

Annalee Newitz ain't buyin' it. Writing for AlterNet, she asks why writing e-mails constitutes a nurturing act while socializing through Fantasy Baseball and chat rooms (as men tend to) counts as chest-thumping? Fallows, she says, forced her subjects into neat categories to come up with a regressive conclusion to her research: Women nurture and men hunt.

The good news is that if you can read through the '50s-era fog, the Pew study really shows that men and women use the web similarly. Sadly, though, there is a difference in men's and women's confidence as techies. Even though women were more likely to watch videos, play games, use file-sharing services, and, yes, look at maps online, they tended not to identify as searchers and geeks, and were shy about trying new gadgets and applications.

So the rift doesn't lie in how we behave; it's rooted in our perceptions of ourselves. In this 'tragedy of gender,' doubt might make a woman believe she's not proficient enough to test the latest software or crack open her computer and examine the guts. But young women are flocking to the web (those younger than 29 are more likely than their male counterparts to use the internet), and Newitz hopes their daughters and younger sisters can inherit the savvy and skip the self-doubt.
-- Morgon Mae Schultz

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